Last week Brandon Price had the pleasure of speaking with me on his podcast, Beyond the Box. Brandon and I discussed how I came to work for integrateIT, the thought process I had behind joining the company, as well as the steps that Geoff and I took to turn our fledgling company into a real business. You can listen to the podcast at the following link: https://apple.co/2ZvhU0u
Three short months into 2018, I have already failed in my 2018 resolution of blogging with any sort of regularity. Based on the current climate of the nation, pretty much anything you put into print will draw the irrational ire of at least 50 percent of the public. Since 100 percent of my material is based on humor, sarcasm, and irony, it’s been tough for me to delve into most of my potential blogging topics. For this blog, I thought it would be interesting to introduce Doug DeWan, a new member of integrateIT’s corporate hierarchy, in the form of a running email conversation.
Doug came to integrateIT in 2016, having worked previously at Oracle for approximately 9 years. While integrateIT’s niche is in project and portfolio management, Doug brings a breath of experience in technical solutions, specializing in systems engineering, cloud computing, and database administration. Doug is charged with building up the technical side of our businesses, expanding the company into a full IT solutions company. He is also responsible for writing a corporate blog on a quarterly basis, for no other reason than it keeps Geoff and I from having to write so many.
In the words of a certain 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and my new best friend since we met February (and I can’t get through a blog without at least one reference), I won’t bore us, I’ll get to the chorus.
David: Doug, coming from a huge technical firm, what interested you in taking the leap of faith to join integrateIT?
Doug: Thanks for the introduction. Since you asked, you’ll get my normal no bullshit this is how it is answer. First off, I’ve never really intended to be part of a massive IT conglomerate that routinely draws the ire of all of the free world’s business and technical community. I’ve also worked at Raytheon for a number of years as well. So how did I come to work for these large corporations? Largely this has been through acquisitions. Almost every job I’ve had as a professional has started with a small company. I’ve been fortunate enough to find companies that have innovative products and services that make them attractive acquisition targets. Unfortunately, I never find them early enough to cash in and retire once the purchase goes through (much to my wife’s chagrin).
So what is it about small companies that I like. I can give you the cliched answers of big fish in a little pond, and to some extent there is a lot to that comparison, but it’s so much more than that. The biggest thing about smaller companies is the many hats you can wear, if you are so inclined. For example, in a services company such as integrateIT I have responsibility for client delivery. I also get tapped on a regular basis for proposal activities. Then there is my normal passion of technology and infrastructure and helping out there as much as possible with ever increasing responsibilities. Basically, no matter what you’re hired to do, at IntegrateIT your job is what you want it to be, all you have to do is work for it.
While all of the above is certainly true at integrateIT, the thing that often get glossed over in the day to day activities, is the dedication of the core integrateIT team to meeting customer expectations, delivering the best possible service and customer experience, and the ability to quickly do what’s right to help the customer. It’s something that often gets lost in the large corporations never ending push for quarterly revenue. The value of, and to, the customer is almost always THE core value of any small business, and is certainly true at integrateIT.
Finally, what I didn’t appreciate at the time but have come to admire and really be proud of, is the dedication to community and charitable endeavors that our owner and founders, David and Geoff, display every day. From forming relationships with charitable organizations (Yellow Ribbons United, CureNFwithJack, Jason Beach Foundation, etc), to their generosity in the Employee Charitable Contribution program, and a number of other employee charity opportunities that don’t get the promotion they should, integrateIT is a responsible and valuable member of the community.
So in short, it wasn’t so much a leap of faith, as a confident step into a responsible corporate organization, that has the same values I believe in, and provides the professional challenges I was, and am still, looking for. I look forward to being with IntegrateIT for a long time.
David: Thank you Douglas, the check is in the mail. I’ll overlook the fact that you didn’t mention that I personally inspire you daily to be a better human being.
What you didn’t answer though, is why someone with your technical background chose to work for a company with a niche that is different from your own expertise. Cards on the table, integrateIT has always had difficulty recruiting software developers, engineers, etc. Maybe that is because my own technical expertise lies within opening the Reddit app or calling my wife to figure out how to turn off the four wheel drive in my car. Do tell.
Doug: Perhaps if you want the answer to specific questions, you should learn to ask the correct questions. Just like a typical customer, be REALLY vague on the requirements, then bitch at the person tasked to perform the impossible, reading your mind. Since we have some clarity into what you really are hoping to get an answer to, let me give it a shot. IntegrateIT now has the breadth of projects and experience to capture technically interesting projects. Additionally, the customers stated and actual embrace of 21st century technology (Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) and GovCloud) provide the languishing government integrator technical enthusiast an opportunity to branch out into the almost parity commercial world of technology. We have a stable group of technology oriented projects, as well as the experience to aggressively capture new projects. Our customers are no longer satisfied with maintaining existing programs, but they want innovative cost effective solutions to hard business and technical problems. With the experience integrateIT has in C2S, as well as various development contracts, we can offer technically interesting opportunities using almost any technology available. IntegrateIT is now focused on rounding out our capabilities, recognizing that we can be much better customer advocates if we can understand not only the process, but the technical solutions to their problems. IntegrateIT is driving down the stack to make sure that processes and technology are joined together to provide a single point of responsibility toward delivery and achievement of customer goals.
David: I can absolutely say, without a shadow of a doubt, I understood about 43 percent of what you just said. And I am good with that. In all seriousness, I think this does show the evolution of our company, and perhaps most importantly, our desire to offer opportunity and possibilities to someone that wants to grab it. You are the perfect test case for this. I would love to revisit this conversation next year, to see where were where are at 12 months from now. I enjoyed this. Until next time.
Doug: You are my hero. I am blessed to be surrounded by your greatness on a daily basis.
(David might have edited the previous comment from its original form due to space limitations).
The past year has been tumultuous for our Nation. The cohesive bond of our great country has been fractured in many ways, and emotions and relationships remain contentious. Our Country was built on the principles of independence and opportunity. We are truly blessed to live in this great Country, a perspective that is often lost in the negativity of the 24-hour news cycle and constant trolling in social media. As the country begins to heal, I believe that everyone ultimately would benefit by setting aside differences and moving forward as a single United nation, embracing the freedoms and unalienable rights that are the foundation of this country.
An area of great pride for me is integrateIT’s focus on philanthropy. No matter the differences that any of our teammates have, philanthropy is a core value that brings us all together. I am always proud to see our team come together to donate resources- be it time or money- to advocate for causes close to our hearts. While each member of our team brings a unique perspective of advocacy with passion for a variety of charities, a common area of interest has always been the support of our military and their families. On a personal front, I have great affinity and appreciation for our service members. Many of my closest friends and loved ones have served our country; my father retired after 20 plus years as a Naval officer. When I was younger, I spent several months being treated as an inpatient at Walter Reed medical center. I saw firsthand how the military treats all members of its family- soldiers or their relatives- as one family.
A year ago I was introduced to the Dockery family, as their son played sports with my oldest son Jake. The Dockery’s are a model family with outstanding core values. I was attracted to their positive demeanor, core family values, and passion for philanthropy. In conversation with Emma, I learned that her family founded the Yellow Ribbons United charitable organization, which supports military families who have been impacted by the loss of a family member who made the ultimate sacrifice protecting our freedoms. I was immediately intrigued by the organization, and I began to research their efforts. A staple event for Yellow Ribbons United is their annual Winter Wonderland event which honors our Tiny Heroes- the children of service members who died in combat. It was an event that Geoff and I immediately wanted to be a part of.
It is impossible put yourselves in the shoes of a child who no longer has their mother or father by their side. A child cannot comprehend the “why” of what happened to their parent; all they truly can wrap their hands around is the deep feeling of loss. It is a feeling that never leaves them, and a gap that they endure on a daily basis. The Winter Wonderland event, even for just one night, provides these children and their families the opportunity to escape into a world of fantasy and entertainment- to be shown the love and appreciation that we all have for them.
Words or pictures cannot capture just how amazing the Winter Wonderland event was. The children were treated to so many wonderful memories, from witnessing a magic show, to a variety of arts and crafts stations, to video games, ball pits, and candy stations. Each child received presents from major corporations such as Build a Bear and North Face. In a touching moment, the mothers and grandmothers of the children received a well-deserved present donated from Kendra Scott jewelers. Without sounding cliché, I can’t remember the last time I smiled so much. It was incredible seeing so many disparate groups- congressmen, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, military leaders, and volunteers- banding together to support our military families.
I cannot express how proud I am that our integrateIT team banded together to participate in such an incredible experience. I was touched by the unity and cohesion in the room. I was proud to bring my son Jake to the event so that he could witness the community come together as one. I cannot wait to support Yellow Ribbons United in their future endeavors. I encourage you all to visit their website at www.yellowribbonsunited.org to learn more about their outstanding organization. And most importantly, I hope that we all can find a cause, whatever that may be, to donate our resources to. We are all so blessed to live in the Country, to be part of this community. Taking the time to reflect upon this and help others certainly puts things into perspective.
In January, I celebrated my 10-year work anniversary with integrateIT. Depending on how you look at things, 10 years is either a very short or very long amount of time. To me, the past 10 years have at times dragged on or passed by in a blink of an eye. Since 2006, I have gotten married, welcomed 3 amazing children, and built several lasting memories. I believe that I have matured and grown in so many ways, and at the same time my wife would tell you that at my worst I am still stuck in 1999. The evolution of David Baldini would make an amazing documentary, except for the fact that nobody would watch it. That said, over the past ten years, I have partaken in a myriad of experiences ranging the gamut of emotions. Unfortunately for the rest of this post, I just exhausted all of the $100 words that I know. With that said, in reflection of my ten years with integrateIT, I bring you my top 10 lessons learned:
- You’re on all the time. As a business owner, there truly are no days off. Evenings, weekends, holidays, and vacations are all part of the “normal” work week. It’s not a complaint, it’s just a fact. You learn quickly that every email you receive is the most important thing to someone: an employee has a question about insurance, a prime contractor has a question about an invoice, or a teammate needs an imminent response to a data call. Fortunately the advances in technology have been conducive to rapid responses from anywhere at any time. Unfortunately, the advances in technology have also made it difficult to say that you were unable to respond to an email.
- Time management is critical. Since you are always on, you’d better make really good use of your time. In addition to my regular work week, I coach sports three nights a week, and games on the weekends. I have responsibilities as a husband, parent, and friend. There isn’t much time for screwing around, and there certainly is no time to “recover” from a long night or weekend. Additionally, there is always the unforeseen emergent situation to tend to. Poor time management leads me to producing low quality deliverables and leaves me open to making mistakes…and no one has time for that.
- Find people you can trust at all levels. I am so lucky to have a business partner that I trust to share in the responsibility of growing and maintaining this business. I know that we can lean on one another, encourage one another, commiserate with one another, or kick each other in the ass if needed. A business partnership truly is a professional marriage. You have to share a vision and a common goal. You have to be equal partners. I can tell you first hand how toxic it can be to have a business partner that doesn’t share the same workload, drive or core values. It filters down to every level of your organization, and it ruins your day to day experience. Fortunately, for the past seven years, I can honestly say that my “business marriage” has been a blessing. On a related note, one of the most difficult things for my business partner and me to do is delegate responsibility. At the end of the day, as a business owner, it doesn’t matter if someone else screws up- it is your name on the marquee and no one else. That said, it is impossible to do everything yourself. There are too many meetings to attend, too many proposals to deliver, and too many contracts to manage. If you try to do everything, you will spread yourself thin, and you will ultimately burn out. Geoff and I are fortunate to have identified teammates that share in our vision, and have been thirsty to take on responsibility in the realms of talent management, business development, marketing, and recruiting. Without these teammates, we would be unable to grow or sustain our business.
- Say Thank You. It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice. Saying thank you to those around you isn’t difficult, but it is often forgotten. I have found that most people feel as if their contributions are not fully appreciated or properly acknowledged. Showing your appreciation for your employees, coworkers, and business partners goes a long way to building morale and strengthening bonds.
- It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint. You hope so at least, because if it was a sprint, chances are you’d be out of business. Something that I learn time and time again, and sometimes the hard way, is that every decision you make today can come back to impact you tomorrow. Chances are the first time that you meet someone- whether it is a prospective teaming partner, employee, or customer- will definitely not be the last. Every impression you make can be lasting, and every interaction can be critical. Often the efforts you put in today may not come to fruition for years- if ever. It can be a long and humbling process, but you have to play the game if you want to have a chance to win. More times than I can count I have seen someone down the road that I interacted with earlier in my career. Memories tend to be long in business, and first impressions are often difficult to erase.
- Sometimes you are the Dog, but mostly you are the Fire Hydrant. Vince McMahon (great American) once said, “In this business you need to learn to eat shit. You’ll never like the taste, but you’ll get used to it.” Whether you are a big company or a small business, an employer or an employee, you will often find yourself of the business end of a beat down, fairly or not. If you are a subcontractor, you will ALWAYS find yourself taking it on the chin. All you can do is all you can do, and continue to do things the right way. If you work hard, work smart, and treat people the right way, things have a way of working out in the end.
- It’s Not that Bad. There are a lot of difficult situations you must address as a business owner. Difficulties with primes, customers, employees, and vendors can certainly fill many a work day. We have had contracts end unexpectedly, employees find themselves dealing with hardships, and massive expenses appear out of nowhere. And when you go through a few days, weeks, or even months where it feels like you are encountering one bad situation after another, you can tend to get very down on yourself. But you are alive; you are healthy; you are solvent. You have a wonderful family and great friends. You are healthy. There are a lot of people in this world that would gladly trade their situation for yours. It is important to keep that in perspective.
- Celebrate Success. Too often, as mentioned above, we get bogged down by the negatives that we don’t take the proper time to reflect on the positive. For me, this is one of my greatest faults as a business owner. I allow myself to get beaten down by the day to say swings and I don’t take the time to acknowledge all of the positives that have occurred. integrateIT has been in business for 12 years. That is pretty damn good, considering most startups don’t make it past a year. Our company has been voted one of the best places to work in Washington DC for three years running. That means that we have built a company and an environment that people are proud to work for, which not many companies can say. Our company has won Prime contracts, has been awarded several subcontracts, and has diversified into new agencies. We have built a great team full of diverse and unique employees. We are making a difference at work and in the community. All of this should be celebrated.
- Find an Outlet. Everyone needs a way to escape their daily stresses, and everyone needs a break. For me, it is very important to exercise. It allows me time to think, time to vent, and time to literally work out my emotions. It also breaks me away from my phone and computer long enough to remember that I have other things going on in life besides work.
- Find a Jenny. All of the above would not have been possible without my wife Jenny. Dealing with me on a day to day basis is not easy. As we are managing our growing family, the consistent reply of “I need 5 minutes to send this extremely important email” or “I’m going to need the next three nights to knock out this proposal” tend to get repetitive and trite. That, coupled with my weekly (daily?) reply of “I’m sorry I’m in a bad mood, but there is a crisis right now”, you can imagine that dealing with me can be a bit trying. I can honestly say that without Jenny, there would be no integrateIT….at least not an integrateIT that involves me. I have a serious (pathetic) dream that one day, when I retire, there will be a celebration all about me. After several celebrities acknowledge my contributions to industry, and following a once in a lifetime acoustic collaboration of Jon Bon Jovi and Scott Stapp singing a duet in my honor, I will hit the stage to accept my well-deserved accolades. And after 10 minutes of amazing banter, I will acknowledge my wife as matriarch of my family, and my saving grace. And it will be selling her short.
In case you haven’t heard, the Government is intent on lowering its contractor costs. In fairness, the defense budget, specifically within the intelligence community, was raised to an unsustainable level post 9/11. As time has passed, administrations have turned over, and sadly, memories have faded, the onus of spending on defense and national security has lessened. At first, the cuts were marginal, and frankly, warranted. Companies were getting “fat” on defense, and the market became over saturated. A market correction was needed.
For those unfamiliar with Government contracting, it is worth noting that billing rates are a bit different than in the commercial sector. All contractor rates to the Government are audited; each line item that comprises the billing rate is reviewed and scrutinized. Our company has been a part of proposals where pre-award I was asked to produce invoices and receipts to justify our rate structure. In short, there is no fluff; there are no hidden buckets in which to tuck away profit. For perspective, when I was a 22 year old mini-cyborg fresh out of school, I was billed out by a Fortune 500 company at $250 per hour. Clearly, the customer was paying quite the premium for the ability to say that they would know me 15 years later. Now? I bill for half of that. And I’m twice as awesome.
As budgets have been reduced, companies have been forced to adjust their balance sheets to match the state of the industry, and rightly so. Large companies began losing work to smaller, more agile firms with less overhead. Stockholders were not happy. To compete with small businesses, some large firms have split their Government services from other business units in order to allocate overhead expenses to the “proper” cost center…aka…their commercial sectors. This change put the large companies and small companies on an even playing field, one that, in my opinion, produces the Utopian environment….when all things are equal, talent and innovation is what wins work as opposed to name brand or frugality.
Unfortunately, over the past year, the landscape has continued to change, and not for the better. Funding to the defense and intelligence sectors has continued to decrease, to the point that in the opinion of some, national security could be compromised. Our customers realize this. A certain level of support is needed in order to keep this country safe. To put it bluntly, our customers need the same level of support….but at a lower cost.
Geoff and I built this company with a vision of providing opportunity and stability for all who trusted their careers with us. We have always said that employment at integrateIT is what you make of it. We wanted to develop a culture that provided employees with the ability to define their future. If you wanted to work 40 hours a week and stay in the same job for 20 years? You can do that. If you wanted to learn how to build a company, mentor resources, and participate in business development with the hope of one day starting your own business? We encouraged that. Now? It is tough to look someone in the eye and sell that vision, as the current state of the industry hinders the opportunity that we can provide. It kills us to have an all hands meeting with our staff, to look them in the eye, and tell them that if you are interested in moving to a new position, the reality of the world is that you may have to take a pay cut to do so.
We’ve been in this game long enough to know that there are ebbs and flows, and that the true mark of a successful company is how you come out at the other end of an obstacle. We can sit and sulk, or lean upon the core values that brought us to the dance. We will strive to maintain our status as an employer of choice by providing the best compensation and benefits package possible. We will continue to expand our business developments efforts to tap into new customer bases for diversification, with the hope that new customers will provide our staff with new opportunity to grow their skillset and career. We will innovate our recruiting efforts to entice new talent to join us in spite of the industry. We will keep on keepin’ on. It’s what we do.
Taylor Swift is the Universe. Over the past five years, she has completely dominated pop culture. Album sales, movie roles, magazine covers, and social media impressions…she has done it all. Hero too many, icon to all. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t adore her. She is successful, she is marketable, and she is topical. Obviously, I can relate. In fact, Tay-Tay and I are pretty much the same person, since we both know Ali Krieger and all (call the Janitor for clean up, cause I’m dropping names.) If I ever have a daughter, and I can’t name her Flo after Mr. Rida, then I am definitely naming her after The Swifter.
Since T Sizzles is officially my doppelganger, I thought it was only fitting that her songs serve as the inspiration for this blog. Each song will serve as a starting point for some business related drivel inspired by the past few months. Is it really relevant to integrateIT’s core competencies? Not in the slightest. But I figured if I named this Pulitzer winning piece after her, there was a change more than 10 people that don’t work for me would read it. I should probably caveat this by saying that someone told me that all of T’s songs are about break-ups. That would make for a pretty short blog, so we are going to reference song titles and go from there. Without further ado, here is My Bizness, the Taylor Swift edition.
Love Story- this is for you, US Census Bureau. You were our first big Prime win. Over the past two and a half years, we have done incredible things together. We have transformed business practices, we have led revolutionary efforts. You have even allowed us to add a few new friends to our team along the way. It has been amazing. You have allowed us to write the soundtrack of our company via past performance wins. We love you.
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together- right back at you, US Census Bureau. Apparently, breaking up with me out of nowhere wasn’t enough, you had to give me the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech as well. Yeah, so you are consolidating a bunch of contracts to save the Organization time and money in the form of overhead dollars. But I thought we were special. Apparently not. Our last performance will be in February 2016.
Shake It Off- How can I? Losing you has hurt our core, and has forced us to make some very difficult decisions. Our team members have had to move on. We had to let our recruiter go. It has been death by a thousand cuts. But what are we going to do? We are going to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps, and we are going to move forward. We are going to bid on new efforts at your Agency. We are going to join teams as a Subcontractor. And we are going to go out with the same class and style that brought us to the dance to begin with.
Tim McGraw- I have seen him in concert twice. Hot wife. Moving on.
You Belong With Me- over the past three months, we have been blessed to add five new members to our team. Each resource brings their own unique background and talents, and will allow integrateIT to diversify its playlist. We look forward to making music with you.
White Horse- never heard of this song before, but Google said that T Money sings it. Our team continues to put its best foot forward by giving back to the community. Over the past few months our team has contributed to several great causes. We took part in Christmas in April, where we helped to rebuild a home for a tenant that could no longer do it themselves. We have sponsored several great charities, to include Wounded Warriors, Kyle’s Camp, and The Cure Starts Now foundation. We can’t wait to dance with new partners over the remainder of the year.
Teardrops on My Guitar- we were touched to be voted the #10 best medium sized company to work for in WMA by the Washington Business Journal. Truly an incredible honor, one that was only made possible by having the best team in the industry. Awards don’t often interest me, but this is one I am extremely proud of. Even though we have made “the list” for the past three years, it never gets old.
Blank Space- our open canvas to write our future. Our hard work has enabled us to become industry leaders in the realm of project and portfolio management. Our proposal pipeline is solid; our teaming partners are growing. Our team is strong, and we continue to provide the customer with exceptional value. Our future is ours to write, our past is ours to reflect on. I know that our next albums will be amazing.
Easy to tell everyone to HAVE.
Impossible to convince yourself to hold. Maybe that is just me.
I’m not sure if the above was a haiku, but hopefully it was and as a result you will be able to see my face with that quote on some ridiculous image on your Facebook feed.
I’ve mentioned this before, but the best way that I can describe owning a business is that the swings resemble a three day bender at a Blackjack table in Vegas (or for the common folk like me, a weekend in Chuck Town, West Virginia). The highs are indescribable; the lows are epic stories that you want to tell and no one wants to hear. And if you can’t handle the swings, you don’t play the game (or, you go work for the Federal Government. Just kidding Dad!)
2015 is about four months old, and the following reality show has already occurred:
- We were awarded two new contracts that have provided our company with exceptional growth opportunities.
- Our business development pipeline and proposal efforts have expanded beyond our current customer base.
- Three years of hard work paid off as we finally achieved a long standing goal of attaining a Facilities Clearance.
- We found out that a contract wasn’t being renewed because the Organization changed their name to “blue green” and our contract says the work was for “blue” and therefore our contract was no longer valid.
- We hired two new resources that, for reasons beyond our control, did not show up on-site Day 1. For a company of our size, the man hours and financial resources committed to these failed placements is not quantifiable.
- I spent 3.5 hours one night on the phone with the IRS. How do I know it took that long? I missed an entire WWE pay per view. (PS…it was a clerical error).
Each event listed causes me to run the gambit of emotions. Some days I drive home and resemble the scene from Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise rolls down the windows and screams the lyrics to “Free Falling” (definitely just dated myself.) Other days, I feel like the scene in Major League where Rick Vaughn just set the record for throwing four wild pitches in a single inning and made the ESPN Hall of Shame (really just dated myself). As an aside, over the past five years I have seen approximately ten movies in the theater. Eight of them were cartoons. Contrary to what you have heard, they are NOT “funny” for adults.
Perspective. I legitimately fight every day to keep it. As much as I look at Jon Bon Jovi and wish I could be him, I can humbly acknowledge that there are several people that would willingly trade places with me. That, in of itself, is enough to make someone squash their own arrogance.
I am blessed with a marriage to the only woman in this world that could tolerate me. I have the two most amazing children a man could ask for. I have amazing parents, a wonderful family, and friends that I can laugh with for eternity. And I coach the best U6 Boys soccer team that I have ever seen.
If the company comes crashing down (and it won’t)….if I died tomorrow (and I won’t)…the paragraph above is more than enough to hang my hat on. That…is perspective.
When it comes to work, I have a general rule that I only allow myself one day to react to an outcome, whether it is good or bad. I believe that reflection is a key for personal and professional growth. After all, integrateIT’s trademarked portfolio management solution, iSPINE (cheap plug!) will tell you that documenting lessons learned is a key component to project closeout. However, if I allow myself to get too high or too low, I have come to realize that it stunts my productivity. Get excited about a new hire? Take the day and enjoy it, because just as quickly a position will be cut. Add a new teaming partner? Enjoy, because tomorrow a teammate may wish you your best in your future endeavors.
Just like in blackjack, the business cards have no memory. Whether you won or lost a hand, or several in a row (I’ve heard…), each day brings a new deck of cards. 2014 was a successful year for the Company. integrateIT met approximately 90 percent of our corporate goals. We added six new employees, we contributed time and financial resources to several outstanding charities, we added new teaming partners, and Geoff and I ended our ninth year in a row where we are still speaking to one another. The year was not without its challenges. Two of our contracts ended and were not renewed (thanks for the 3 days notice US Government! I kid. Kind of.), the affordable health care act proved to be anything but (for more information on this, read my self-help blog from October, available via the Google), training budgets and award fees were cannibalized, and Scott Stapp still hasn’t found the criminal who stole $30 million from his bank account.
As soon as the year ended, Geoff and I set forth to plan our way forward in 2015. Almost immediately, we found ourselves saying what we have said each year for the past 9 years- that 2015 will be our most challenging year yet. This time, however, I definitely believe it. Our two Prime contracts are up for re-compete this year. Both face uncertainty of renewal. If the contracts go away, approximately 1/4th of the jobs in our company would be cut. That is an impact to our employees, their families, and our company. Not a day goes by that Geoff and I don’t take that very seriously. It literally keeps us up at night. But so much of the future of these contracts is out of our hands, as turnover in Government personnel, business reorganization, and federal funding will all play a part. What can we control? Simply our performance on site. Is it scary that we could receive a 100 percent award fee and still not receive an extension? Absolutely. But this is what we signed up for as business owners, and this is the hand we will play. We can only hope that we will flop an Ace and a King.
Apart from our Prime contracts, industry is facing many challenges. Award fee pools are being cut, contracts are being consolidated, escalation of rates has been eliminated, and training budgets have been decimated. For some reason, no one explained this to our vendors, as their prices continue to escalate. So what can we do? I suppose we could hold our cards, and hope the 2015 dealer busts. But the book will tell you, it’s better to play your hand and give yourself a shot, as opposed to hoping someone else wins or loses on your behalf. We will continue to build the infrastructure of our company. To me, that means participating on as many proposals as possible, no matter the win probability. It means getting creative with training. integrateIT will implement various Communities of Practice, where our staff will teach one another industry best practices. We will save money wherever possible, so that in the event a contract is lost, we can support our staff for as long as possible.
I am a big fan of cliches and quotes. I’m a bigger fan of plagiarizing them and claiming them as my own. My current favorite quote is courtesy of Henry Ford, who surprisingly wasn’t a professional wrestler or a lead singer of a rock band. “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” For 2015, I think we can do anything. And if we can’t? It isn’t because I didn’t believe we could.
There are certain inherent differentiators in working for a large company vice a small company. By working for a large company, an employee is in an environment where job security and corporate name recognition is at a premium. In an economy such as ours, that is a tough hurdle for a small business to climb. As such, small business must offer incentives to prospective employees that large companies just cannot afford.
For years, integrateIT’s most attractive feature to potential employees has been our comprehensive benefits package, most notably our ability to cover 100 percent of health insurance costs for our employees and their families. This benefit was appreciated by our staff, as it provided them a huge financial savings while still covering them with a premium health insurance plan.
And in honesty, it is something that Geoff and I were extremely proud of. It always made me smile when an employee would come back from maternity leave and tells us how amazing it was that they didn’t pay a dollar out of pocket to deliver their baby. It was just one less thing for them to worry about. And it was something that made them appreciative of their employer.
Over the last few years, it has proven extremely difficult for us to maintain this benefit. integrateIT’s healthcare costs have increased by an average of 25 percent a year over the last five years. Geoff and I have done whatever we could do to not pass these increases onto our employees. We have cut costs where possible. Geoff and I haven’t taken a raise in five years, for example. We have tried to raise profits to compensate for the increased costs, and thus invested in a full-time recruiter. Each year we have continued to sneak by without passing some cost onto our employees. Until now.
The Affordable Healthcare Act has proven anything but, well, affordable. According to our insurance provider, the current plan that we offer our employees is too good….so good that when new ACA requirements were added to it, it became too expensive for the carrier to continue to offer it. In its place, our insurance provider offered us an alternative plan, the “closest plan” to what we offer, which has new fees, higher co-pays, and….another 30 percent price increase. In addition, because of changes within the ACA, certain employee’s rates have increased by as much as 120 percent. Now, lower coverage with a higher price? That to me doesn’t seem too affordable.
The point of the Affordable Healthcare Act was to allow every American the opportunity to purchase insurance at an affordable cost. The problem is, however, that not every American can even afford the cost of what these plans would entail. As such, the insurance companies passed the cost increases onto the middle and upper tier health plans. The thought was that by raising the costs of these plans, and passing the costs onto the people that could “afford” them, the insurance companies would recoup some of their losses. Problem is…the health care plans now became unaffordable for the middle class, and in some cases, it became more cost effective for the average American to pay the fine and not obtain health insurance. And when that person gets sick and has to go to the hospital? We are in the same mess that we are in now, only worse.
And how about for businesses? Well, business that don’t participate in the Affordable Healthcare Act and do not offer their employees insurance would have to pay a fine. That fine is to be a deterrent. But let me tell you, from purely a business perspective, it would make much more sense financially for us to pay the fine and not offer insurance. From speaking to my peers that own other companies, they are in the same boat. So now it makes more sense for me to not offer insurance to my employees? I’m guessing that is not the intent of the Affordable Healthcare Act either.
The purpose of this post is not to bring any political opinions to the table. Fact is, the current iteration of the ACA went through something like 50 iterations. Which means that Democrats and Republicans both had a say as to the final content of the bill. What I do know is the current bill is not working. Healthcare is still not affordable, as the burden of the cost just switched from one demographic to another. Businesses have great incentive financially to not offer employees insurance. And insurance companies? They are going to continue to play the shell game with costs to stay viable.
As for me? Well, I’m sad.
I’m sad I can no longer offer employees the same benefits that I have in the past. Although we will still be able to offer a generous stipend to employees- approximately 95 percent of our staff will still be fully covered by integrateIT- the plan just isn’t as good as it used to be. I’m sad that other people are in way worse shape than I am. I’m sad that the state of the industry is such that doctors are turning away patients. I’m sad that my wife and her nursing colleagues may not have the means to treat patients as effectively as the patients deserve.
What do I want? I want our leaders to fix it. All of them.
PS- If the intent of the Affordable Healthcare Act is to keep health care costs under control, I’m fairly certain we shouldn’t be so accommodating in allowing people who are at risk of passing on Ebola to enter the country.
I was recently talking to a good friend of mine who is entering the job market for the first time since college. Because this is the first time in 13 years that he is interviewing for a job, he is a bit nervous of what is ahead. Since he correctly assumes that his upcoming interviews will consist of a bit more rigor than asking about his contributions to his college fraternity, he asked me for a bit of advice on how to prepare for what’s ahead. By no means am I an expert on interviewing, but since I have been conducting an average of two interviews a week for the past few years, I can definitely say that I have seen it all: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright bizarre. Below are a few tips on how to present yourself in the best light to future employers. And unfortunately….everything mentioned in the “don’ts” below has definitely happened to me….and it has happened more than once:
Do: Write a concise resume. This is often your first, and sometimes only, impression to a future employer. Try to avoid the temptation to embellish your resume with fancy words and flowery descriptions. If I have to use a dictionary to try and figure out what you accomplished, chances are I’m just going to punt on the resume. Use short, concise sentences with strong action words to define your accomplishments and the benefits that your work has supplied to a company.
Don’t: Be late….or even worse, not show up. If I am on time, you should be on time. We both have busy schedules; we both had to fight the same nightmare traffic. Be respectful of your interviewer’s time just as the interviewer should be respectful of yours. If you need to cancel or reschedule, be sure to do so at least 24 hours in advance. And if you decide to not show up…don’t even bother trying to get back in touch.
Do: Be honest. Especially in the current job market, people are going to have gaps on their resumes. Contracts run out, and funding is sometimes cut on a whim. If you are looking for a new job, be truthful about why you are looking. Believe it or not, I don’t get along with everyone. I understand that personality and cultural conflicts are an acceptable reason to be looking for a new job. Here’s the other thing- companies do still check references. And believe it or not, your references will tell your prospective new employer the truth. If you are caught in a lie, or even a half truth, you are done.
Don’t: Talk badly about your current company. If you are in the process of interviewing for a new job, it is because something is not ideal about your current employment. It may be the pay, the location, the company culture, or the type of work you are doing. I know this ahead of time; no one is going to leave a perfect situation. But if you come to the table and disrespect your current employer, it immediately makes me question if you are the type of person I want representing (and speaking about) my company.
Do: Research the company you are interviewing for, and ask questions. If someone is taking the time to interview you, it means that they have a vested interest in their company. It is important that you come to the interview with an idea of what the company you are interviewing with is all about: the history, core competencies, goals, and vision of the company as examples. Asking questions about the company and your potential place within the company shows the employer that you are truly interested in the position. Additionally, if you are able to ascertain information about the person who is interviewing you ahead of time, that is also a good thing. I won’t lie, it certainly plays to my ego if someone asks me how I enjoyed attending the University of Virginia, or says that they read my blog.
Don’t: Complain to me about the interview location. Geoff and I have built a company around a certain culture, where we are a results driven company that also enjoys a true team atmosphere that is laid back and relaxed. We also spend money in a strategic fashion, which means we only spend money on salaries and benefits. Thus, we don’t have a corporate office. If our recruiter lets you know that we will be meeting you at a Starbucks or Panera……don’t complain to me upon arrival that we are meeting at a Starbucks or a Panera. You knew about the location of the interview ahead of time, and you knew about the culture of the company from your pre-screen with our recruiter.
Do: Follow up with your interviewer. At some point with the advent of technology, the thank you note became a lost art. If someone takes the time out of their day to meet with you, they are doing just that- taking their personal time to get to know you, to learn about you, and to see if you are a fit with the company. A simple thank you note goes a long way to showing your appreciation of the interview and your respect for their time. It also leaves a lasting positive memory with the person who interviews you, and will set you apart from your competition.
Don’t: Ask for ownership in the company. So let me get this straight: I just met you, and you haven’t worked a day for my company. You have not received accommodations for work performed on site, you have not assisted in business development, and you have not recruited any new employees. I’ve worked hard the last 8 years to build this company into what it is today. Geoff has worked for two years on top of that. Guess what I really want to do? Give someone I don’t know ownership in my company.
Don’t: Chastise me for my dress at the interview. About six months ago, I came straight to an interview after spending the morning with my son at his school. It was a themed dress up day, and I looked the part. I believe I had on jeans and a Redskins jersey, which I covered with a jacket. Now, you can get on me for being a fan of such a poor team, but don’t get on me for being a good dad. This proceeded to tell me how unprofessional I was for not “dressing the part of my title.” Sir, last I checked…you were asking me for a job. Best of luck in your future endeavors.
If you follow the above guidance, you should be well on your way to securing that coveted new job….or at the least ensuring that you don’t embarrass yourself too badly. If you have any experiences to share either as an interviewer or interviewee, please do so in the comments section.